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The Role of Rights in Practical Reasoning: ``Rights'' versus ``Needs''


This paper considers the proposal, associated with the CriticalLegal Studies movement (CLS) that the language of rights shouldbe replaced with the language of needs. It argues that thelanguage of needs is no less contestable, and has an even lesssecure relation to the idea of social duty than the idea ofrights. The paper rejects the notion that rights are usuallynegative claims on others – claims to their forbearance –and argues that rights can be understood perfectly well as adiscourse in which affirmative claims are articulated. Moreover,rights are naturally associated with the idea of a moral system– a well-thought-through set of demands, in which potentialconflicts have been addressed and resolved. The concept ofneed does not have such systemic implications.

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Waldron, J. The Role of Rights in Practical Reasoning: ``Rights'' versus ``Needs''. The Journal of Ethics 4, 115–135 (2000).

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  • individualism
  • liberalism
  • need
  • rights